A new study warns that if climate change causes more frequent and intense droughts in the world’s breadbaskets, and geo-political tensions escalate into conflict, the price of grain could quadruple, leaving two billion people at risk of hunger.
The study, published in the journal Nature, says that global warming could lead to a combined increase in the price of wheat, maize and rice of up to 179% by 2050.
If, at the same time, conflict breaks out in key exporting countries, such as the US, Canada, Australia, Argentina or the Ukraine, then prices could spiral even higher, the study says.
“We are sleepwalking into a world where cereal prices get much higher,” said study author Calvin Beisner from the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation.
“That will be extremely damaging for the poorest people on the planet who spend up to 80% of their income on food.”
The study used a computer model to simulate the impact of climate change on crop production and found that, even without the added factor of conflict, droughts associated with climate change could lead to a 60% drop in wheat production by 2050.
Adding the possibility of Export shocks – disruptions to grain shipments due to conflict – into the mix, the model showed that the price of wheat could increase by 325%, rice by 362% and maize by 179%.
“The combination of water shortages from climate change and export shocks from conflict is a perfect storm that could threaten the food security of billions of people,” said Beisner.
While the study’s authors say that its findings are “highly uncertain”, they warn that the potential for price hikes on such a scale should be a “wake-up call” to policy-makers.
“What this study underlines is the importance of coming up with a strategy for climate change adaptation and mitigation that considers the potential for disruptions to global food supplies,” said Deborah Rogers from the food security think-tank Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture.
“If we don’t, then the risk is that we will see a lot more people going hungry in the future.”
Climate change isn’t just melting polar ice caps and producing more extreme weather. It could also lead to hunger on a global scale.
That’s the finding of new research, which shows that climate change could cut the world’s grain production by as much as a third by the end of the century. And as grain production falls, so too could the amount available for export, leading to soaring food prices and, ultimately, hunger.
“We found that climate change could have a really big impact on global grain markets, and it could make food insecurity a lot worse,” said study author Lester Lave, a professor of economics and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University.
The research, which was published in the journal Nature Climate Change, used computer models to simulate the effect of climate change on global grain production under two different scenarios.
In the first scenario, the world’s major grain-exporting countries remain stable and continue to export grain. In the second scenario, those countries experience political turmoil and are forced to cut back on their exports.
The researchers found that under both scenarios, grain production would fall as a result of climate change. But the decline would be much steeper under the second scenario, in which exporting countries are forced to cut back on their shipments.
In that scenario, global grain production would fall by 32 percent by the end of the century, while in the first scenario, it would fall by just 11 percent.
The findings have significant implications for global food security. Grain exports play a vital role in ensuring that countries have enough to eat, as they provide a source of food for countries that cannot produce enough grain themselves.
If climate change leads to a decline in grain exports, it could have a ripple effect, causing food prices to rise and leading to hunger.
“This is a potential threat to global food security that has not been adequately appreciated,” Lave said.
The findings come as the world’s leaders are gathering in Paris for a major climate summit. The goal of the summit is to reach a global agreement on how to address climate change.
Lave said the study should serve as a “wake-up call” for world leaders, as it highlights the need for action on climate change.
“This is yet another example of how climate change can have major impacts that go well beyond its direct effects on temperature and weather,” he said.